Max Scherzer and the Nationals entered the weekend with a decision to make between him starting Sunday's series finale against the Baltimore Orioles, or skipping his turn in interest of his availability for Tuesday's All-Star Game.
It wasn't a tough one in the end, they say, as Scherzer opted to face the Orioles instead of pitching in Cincinnati. He was coming off his worst outing of the 2015 season when he allowed five earned runs against the Reds and was intent on turning the page.
That goal was accomplished in convincing fashion, as Scherzer fell just one strike short of capturing his fourth complete game of the season. He finished with 8 2/3 innings of two-run ball, with seven strikeouts and no walks.
"After the start against Cincinnati where I didn't really have it, I wanted to come out here today and pitch as well as I can. I know what I'm capable of," he said.
The two runs Scherzer allowed came on solo homers by Adam Jones. One came in the first inning and one in the ninth, both were when Scherzer was within one strike of getting a third out.
"He was able to get it to a special place in this park. He just did a good job competing against me with two strikes and hitting my off-speed stuff. Credit to him," Scherzer said.
Scherzer finished with no walks for the fifth straight outing, a stretch of 39 2/3 consecutive frames.
"Starting with no walks allows you to pitch efficiently and pitch deep into games. That can always help the ballclub. I'm proud of that," he said.
Scherzer pitching on Sunday instead of the All-Star Game was noticed by his teammates as a decision to put the Nationals first and ahead of his own individual interests.
"It puts everything in perspective," Tyler Moore said. "It makes us know that we're more important. It's awesome to see."
"It's just Max. He's a competitor, he's a team-guy. He's a horse," Dan Uggla said. "There was never a doubt that he was going to pitch today. I'm sure he wanted to pitch in the All-Star Game, but it's team-first and then go get them after that."
Scherzer enters the All-Star break 10-7 with a 2.12 ERA. That's the best ERA he's ever had at the break, but Scherzer hopes to get even better in the second half, even while on pace for a career-high in innings pitched.
"I've done some good things here in the first half, but it's going to be even more important that I do better things in the second half because this is when it's going to matter. I know what it takes to win in these situations to get to October. Hopefully as a team we're able to play our best baseball and be able to get there," he said.